> Urban Clue Solving Races > Great Urban Race San Juan Championships 2013

Great Urban Race San Juan Championships 2013

December 7, 2013
By David Bogle - Team Vignette KD

It's that time of year again. The time I look forward to all year long... no, not Christmas, it's the Great Urban Race national championships! This year the GUR staff decided there have been just too many finals races in Las Vegas and New Orleans, so they moved it to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Technically, San Juan is in the United States, but for many reasons, this was much more like racing in a foreign country. Our Austin mob had five teams qualify and travel to San Juan for the race, so if nothing else we would all have a good time hanging out together for a few days. Teams making the trip were: Vignette KD (Kip and Dave), Vignette MJ (Marcy and John), TooCoolWolves (Tom and Cathy), TooCoolRacing (Art and Robyn), and the Friddles (Phil and Pete). Since the race this year is at a bit of a vacation resort, we had no problems getting several folks to come along as drinking support (I mean ground support). We had Marilyn, Michelle, Maura, Zack and Tim. That is a far larger ground support crew then we normally have. Nice to have races in exciting vacation destinations!

Leading up to most races, I generally use the excuse that I don't have time to prepare as I am busy working and busy with my family. This leaves most of pre-race preparations to Kip. Well, this year Kip pulls the old "I have a job too" card, so our team really didn't do any real preparation to get ready for this year's race. Good thing Marcy and John got here a few days early to scout around for all of us!

Well enough of this stuff, let's get onto the race. As in previous seasons, teams who have qualified during the past year by placing in the top 25 at a local race were allowed to race in the championships. There were about 70 teams that showed up for the morning race. These 70 teams would do a race similar to the races held in their respective cities and the top 8 teams from the morning race would advance on to compete in the Elite 8 race for the real prizes. During registration we saw several of the regular teams such as NADS and Avenging Narwhales, along with a few other teams we have routinely seen at championship races. A few of the "regulars" were missing, like Zack Attack (but they still put together a San Juan race strategy guide) and the Goats. Even without those teams present, we were sure this was going to be a tight race. The goal in the first race is to simply place in the top 8 so we can move on. Kip and I historically train together, but this year was different as we now live on opposite ends of the country. I chose the "too busy to train" route, while Kip chose to train quite well. I would soon find out that our running abilities were not well matched.

The weather had been bad for the past few days in San Juan and the weather at the start of the race followed the same pattern. At 9am we were handed an envelope with our clues and the race was on. We followed our standard strategy of taking pictures of the clue sheet and mailing it to our clue solving support crew.

Our crew back home was dealing with the severe cold weather hitting the US, and we were dealing with mid 80 temperatures and rain. Our mob of teams all race their own race routes so once the start signal goes out, there's no telling which way we will all scatter. As we walked out of the Hilton hotel (start line), the rain began. We quickly scanned the clue sheet and I asked Chris (our phone guy) to look up a couple of things. He quickly located a marina very close to the hotel, so we headed there first. The clues were a bit confusing as you can see as some of them were in Spanish. This makes things super tricky as the normal English clues are always subject to wording issues and racer interpretation is always a hot topic. Today would be no different.

We were the first team to arrive at this clue #2, which was the St. Jude's charity clue. Here we had to sign a large St. Jude's banner. The problem was, it was raining and the markers would not write on the wet surface. The volunteers insisted we have a good signature, so we attempted to dry it as best we could. We finally found a way to get a signature. We got a picture and uploaded it to Twitter.

One down in mere seconds after race start, things had started well. We had also scanned the clue sheet well enough to see a clue that was listed in Condado bay and SUP (stand up paddling). Prior to the race, we figured this would be a perfect clue, so we were off running to this location, as we knew right where it was located. The skies really opened up and it was hard to see while running in the rain and wind. Soon we were at the correct spot. We assumed we would be doing a SUP test, but it turned out all we had to do was pop 3 balloons. OK, that was easy enough to do, so we got the required picture and were out of there. The rain stopped for the moment while we grabbed this picture (what the heck is this guy doing in a hat and jacket, it was hot outside!!)

At this stage, we had been moving directly away from Old San Juan (against the pre-race advice of Zack Attack). Chris told us so far most things were being solved in OSJ but there was one point located a good distance east from our current location (OSJ was west of us). This was all we needed to hear, so we took off running east. It turns out one of our other teams (Cathy and Tom) were using the same strategy and we caught up to them while running east. They told us they had seen the NADS heading east also.

We were able to complete a tic-tac-toe clue, (actually we saw Tom and Cathy in this tree, so we used it also) below is a picture of us in a tree.

We soon followed that up with another tic-tac-toe clue; a plaque in English.

Chris started telling us things we did not like to hear that they kept solving more and more items back the opposite direction. Eventually Chris told us to stop and turn around. It looked like the point we mapped far east had been mapped in the incorrect spot. This was not good, as we had been making fast tracks heading the wrong direction, but these things happen. We turned around (as did Tom and Cathy) and started working our way back. As we got back to the starting line, we looked at our watch and it was 45 minutes into the race and we had yet to get to the main part of the course. This was bad for sure and we assumed we were out of this race, but nothing to do but keep running. The good news for once is that we were able to catch a very timely bus to OSJ (and incidentally, this would be the one and only bus we would catch all day long).

While on the bus we recorded a contract-worthy video of us singing Livin' la Vida Loca! (For the tic-tac-toe clues, we just do as many as we can when the opportunity presents itself in case we get anything wrong).

Down in OSJ, we immediately saw teams swarming all over the place. First up for us was a trip over to Chicago Burger to do a Bacardi catapult challenge. Turns out we were pretty bad at this and it took us several tries to get all the targets in the bucket. Here is our picture after (we're a bit more relaxed than usual as we figured were knocked out of the finals so we could have a little fun).

Here is another tic-tac-toe pic of a drunk Santa we found along the way (that wind was sure playing havoc with our normally pristine hair).

Our next clue location was at Puerto Rican art and crafts. Here we had to solve a puzzle in Spanish in order to move on. Somewhere in this area, we ran into the NADS. What the heck were they still doing here? We figured they would be done by now. Hmmm, maybe we ought to hustle a bit more, as we might still have a chance of finish in the top 8 after all.

Now for a mistake, our crew had translated one of the tic-tac-toe items as requiring a picture of a cross, so here it is. The correct translation was that it should have been a picture of a cruise ship! (It turns out we had enough items to get our tic-tac-toe in another direction for this clue so we did not need it, but hey, look at the very first photo that we uploaded to Twitter... we actually did have a picture of a cruise ship, too!)

We then hustled up the hill to Anem spa. Here we had to take our shoes off and get some beads out of a bucket of water. Kip started to do this, but I was ready for some foot relaxation, so I got my shoes off faster than he did and made quick work of the beads in the bucket. We got our picture and were out of there. (About this time Chris told us no one had finished the course as of yet... so keep running)

The next clue location was literally just feet away at Pigeon Park, where we needed a photo of us feeding the pigeons. Easy enough as the other teams had drawn in many pigeons.

Only a couple of short blocks from here, we headed to an art gallery to find a mid race clue. We had to head to a different location to find the full size version of the statue below.

The hotel where this was located was only a couple blocks away and since we were behind many teams to arrive, a few kids in the street pointed us in the right direction (sometimes it is nice to not be in the lead of the pack!).

Only a couple clues left and still no one has finished (we were about two miles from the finish line still, but let's keep going). Next we headed to the Spicy Carribbee shop where 4 bottles of hot sauce awaited us. We were to taste them all and rank them in order from hottest to mildest. There were tons of teams in this very small lobby and a long line to get to the bottles. This is not good. From afar I was able to spy the names. We jotted those down quickly. There were some chips that people were fighting over to sample on, but that was a long line, so I just poured some of each sauce in my hand and started eating. This was a tough task. Once you tasted the hottest one, it was hard to tell what is hot or what is mild. On our first attempt we got it wrong, so we had to try again. Second time was the charm and we were done. This is the second clue race I have done recently where I had to eat hot sauce. Yuk!

A reprieve came only a few doors down at Ben and Jerry's where we had to be blindfolded and eat ice cream. I quickly volunteered to be the eater to try and cool off the hot sauce in my mouth. Once done, we got our picture as part of the clue (along with some other teams in the background).

Chris told us we are done with clues and we need to get back to the finish line that is about two miles due east. We routed ourselves to the bus station, but there are no buses about to leave, so Kip suggested we run. I was starting to tire in the heat, but we hate waiting for buses, so we take off running. The buses are much faster once they leave, but they don't leave very often. We run all the way back not seeing anyone until we get to the hotel and there is a team coming from the other direction, time to sprint! We sprint to the backdoor shortcut we know, but someone has closed it on us! Ugh, back through the hotel and up the stairs toward the finish line.

As we approached, we were told only 3 teams have finished, so we stop and don't finish, so we can first do a quick camera check to make sure we have all our items. The other team we saw coming in crossed just ahead of us. Moments later we verified we had all our stuff and crossed the finish line. Within a few minutes many other teams came streaming in and the elite 8 group was closed. After camera check we were confirmed in the Elite 8 race. Turns out 3 of our 5 teams made the finals race. The shock of the day was when NADS did not advance to the finals. They actually finished right behind Kip and me, but it turns out they made a very Kip-and-Dave-like mistake (they took a picture when they needed to take a video) and got a penalty. Really a bummer for those guys this year.

Here is a track of the course we ran in the morning race. The black X represents the farthest east point on the course... you can see we chose to see much more of the area on our extra run! Never a good thing to happen in a race. Now it was time to rest for a couple of hours before the finals race, and try not to do any extra running in the finals!

After a long hot run in the early race (with the extra miles we traveled), we were looking forward to once again competing in the Elite 8. This is always the highlight race of the year. The clues are much harder and the challenges are a bit more spectacular. The weather had cleared up a little with was nice, but now the sun was out and it was very humid of course.

The race would start in the same place as the morning race (no secret shuttle taking us far away this year). The elite 8 teams lined up and we were given some clarity on the cut off times. Instead of handing us clue envelopes, we were told our clues were waiting for us out by the pool. So the mad dash ensued as 16 people flew out of the room and down to get the clue sheets. Kip was able to grab one of the clue envelopes and we took a picture to email to our crew.

As we walked out of the hotel, we ran into Marcy and John who were now walking in the same direction as us. Not much to chat about as none of us knew where we were heading. As we scanned the clues I recognized the answer to checkpoint 2. It seemed to be the same location as the marina for the morning race. It was close, so we took off running to that location (bye, Marcy and John).

As we arrived at the marina, the gate guard was happy to once again point us in the right direction. We were the first to arrive here. At this location, we had to take a ride in a boat. While riding in the boat, we had to dig puzzle pieces out of the belly of some fish, by using a spoon in our mouth. Kip was happy to volunteer to do this. Once Kip had all the pieces, we had to put the puzzle together. Easy enough, we were done fast, but the boat ride was mandated to be 5 minutes, so we had a few moments to relax. About this time, we were given some bad news that the normal tic-tac-toe clue was different this year. It stated that we had to get a raw egg before leaving the starting line hotel. This egg had to be in every photo we did. Well, this sure presented a dilemma. We had one clue done already. Should we head back to the start and get an egg and re-do it, or keep moving. We chose the latter and made the egg our skip clue. Hope we don't wind up regretting that decision...

One clue all done, now where to? Chris told us we needed to keep heading east away from Old San Juan. We clearly knew how to do this based on our morning route, so we took off running. We could see Marcy and John up well ahead of us. Our next clue would be #12.

As we ran east, the rain really started pouring again, so much for the dry conditions. This would not have been so bad, except when we arrived at clue #12, we had to start a fire using primitive tools. All the items we were allowed to use were in the trunk of the volunteer's car (due to the rain). I asked if we could light the fire in the trunk, but for some reason, they said no! This was not going to be easy. Not only was it raining, but the wind was really blowing. We did locate a covered space by a guard shack. Kip suggested we just skip this and take a penalty, but I was confident I could do it. It only took a couple of minutes to get the magnesium shavings and light a fire. We took a video of us starting the fire per the clue and we were out of there.

Continuing east, we were off to complete clue #1. On the way, we passed Marcy and John who had already completed clue #1, and were now going to start a fire at clue #12. Kip and I arrived at Ali Babba Turkish restaurant to do our next task. Here we had to both put our hands on a puzzle with little steel ball bearings and get them to the center. The volunteers did not like how we were holding the puzzle (even though we had all 4 hands on it), so they made us restart a couple of times. We were having difficulty getting the balls to roll smoothly through the paths with the puzzle we had, so we swapped it out for the other on the table and that one worked much better. In a couple of minutes, we had this one done and got our clue proof and carried on with the race. (Kip appears to have been drinking heavily between races)

Next up, Chris directed us the location for clue #7 (at least we were actually finding clues east of old San Juan on this trip out here!) The location for this clue was a small hostel room. Upon arriving, we were told we had two minutes to go in the room and observe as much as possible. Then we would answer clues and based on how many wrong answers we gave, we would have to serve a time penalty. We had to turn in all our electronics before entering the room so we had to actually rely on our brains this time. We got most of the questions wrong, and had to serve out a 3 or 4 minute penalty (at least the time penalties were very reasonable). As we were serving our penalty Marcy and John showed up to complete the task.

Things were going pretty well up to now. But, with only 8 teams, it is always hard to know where we are in the standings. Really, from what Kip and I know during the race, it is hard to even gauge the difficulties of the clues. (It turns out some of the clues in this race were pretty darn tough.)

Next up, we were told to head to the airport next to the convention center for #8. Easy enough, we pretty much knew where that was. As we got close to the airfield we were told to head down to the other end of the airport. We were having second thoughts on this one, as runways tend to be pretty long. We had no free skip clues left so if we chose to skip it, it would mean a 30 minute penalty. But the reward here seemed pretty cool as the clue indicated we might take a ride in a helicopter. My running form was already doing pretty bad compared to Kip. The slow guy always gets punished in a run as the faster guy is running below his level so he is practically resting! We got to the west end of the airfield and found the business, but they told us that what we were looking for was not here. We scrambled around quite a bit, but it turns out they moved and we were at the old location. Ugh, this has cost a lot of time and a lot of energy in running. We had tried to relay a message to Marcy and John to not come here, but they did not get it and showed up with us. Both our teams started checking every hangar, but we had no luck, so nothing to do but leave the area with no completed clue.

Here is a track of our complete finals race. Once again, the black X shows the location of the farthest out clue, so all the running we did along the southern edge of the airport was a waste. It took us right at 30 minutes to run out and back in this section. After doing all of this running, we were again a bit worried about finishing well, and even worse, we had Marcy and John with us making the same mistake.

Chris told us that checkpoint #6 was not far from us and very close to the first clue we did in both races today. This led to a dock behind a restaurant. We could see the dock, but it was very tricky to actually get into the area. Kip and I even barged into the restaurant in our search for access the dock. From inside, I saw John Beard running down the dock, so clearly they found the entrance. Kip and I scrambled around and finally found an entrance that seemed odd, but we got it. At this location, we had to board a sailboat for a challenge. One of us would be blindfolded and the other would have to verbally tell the blindfolded member how to tie a sailing knot. Seems easy, but really it is knot (ba-da-bing). I was blindfolded but Kip was having trouble giving me instruction so we switched. Then it went quite fast. John Beard was there before us and since he is a knot master, once he heard it was a bowlin knot, he needed no instructions and tied it in seconds. Here we are mid task.

Now we were off to Old San Juan. Once again it was only a couple of miles away. Kip suggested we run, and I had no objection at all other than my run speed was getting slower. It turns out Marcy and John had to do the boat/fish challenge that we did first, so we jumped ahead of them here.

Clue #11 led us to another area we had seen prior to the race. It was a large trapeze area. Due to the rain earlier in the race, teams were not allowed to do the circuit, so all we had to do was take a picture.

During this time, our clue solving crew had figured out the helicopter clue correct location from earlier. It was only a short distance from the trampoline area. This would be my very first helicopter ride, so I was excited for this one for sure. The only negative was that the wind was really blowing so it made for a choppy ride. This was my favorite task of the race by far.

Here's the view from the helicopter ride:

Next up for us would be clue #10. This was a larger version of the catapult Bacardi clue we did in the morning race. We had better luck with this one, except it was a bit slower to reset the catapult each time. Marcy and John caught up to us here and we did this one about the same time.

From here Chris directed us back into Old San Juan. Marcy and John took a different route, so we separated again. Clue #5 led us to a place called the BeerCade. I am not sure exactly what it was, but some sort of bar room. Here, we had to walk on dozens of eggs and not break them. Once we were clear on the rules, it was pretty simple to complete the task. The volunteer took our photo, but he must have been a bit shaky with the camera!

Close by was clue #9. This was another location we had discovered prior to the race in local literature. That doorway is the actual width of the home! Yes, it is that narrow! This challenge involved reading some very tiny stuff. Glad I started carrying magnifying glasses this year!

Chris told us we only had clue #3 left. Time to head to a coffee bar at the far end of the island. Getting into this location was a bit confusing as it was inside the courtyard of a large building. And of course the first side we tried to enter was all boarded up.

Once inside, we found Marcy and John already hard at work at the challenge. At this location, we were required to put on some ear buds and listen to instructions being played via an iPod. Basically, we had to use chopsticks to put coffee beans in a cup while keeping count of the total we had (and we were not allowed to communicate with each other at all). This was enough of a challenge but as soon as the challenge time started the noise in the earphones really ramped up with sirens, whistles and people yelling random numbers. This was all done to try and confuse us. At the end of a few minutes, the judge asked for our number but our count was wrong, so we started over. The next round we did not get the minimum number of beans in the cup (coffee beans and chopsticks are a very weak skill of mine). I think the next time we got the count wrong again. It was on our fourth try that all things aligned and we hit the required minimum and got the count right. Marcy and John were struggling also and it took them a few more minutes after we left in order to complete the task. We heard later that this task really gave at least one team huge problems. Here is our final picture at this location.

Now, all that needed to happen is we had to get to the finish line. Our crew of helpers reported no one had finished yet, so it was time to hustle. Kip made the executive decision that we were not even going to detour the few blocks to attempt to catch a bus. It was a good decision, but now meant we had to run the last couple of miles to the finish. Thankfully, Kip was feeling good, so I tied a rope to him and let him drag me down the road toward the finish. We did see one bus, but they would not stop for us. I could not tell if any other teams were on the bus or not. We in fact had not seen many teams in the old San Juan area at all, so of course we were both nervous. And did Marcy and John manage to catch the bus that just passed us?

As we approached the finish line, we saw our crew Zack waiting outside the hotel for our arrival. He ran up the stairs with us to the finish line. In fact Kip and I were the first team to arrive, but the race was not yet over. We now were given a logic puzzle to solve before we crossed the finish line. We were told if we could not solve it, we could take a 15 minute penalty. We started working on the puzzle and just could not tell if it would be fast or slow to solve, so we immediately made the decision to take a 15 minute penalty (the penalty time did not start until you gave up on the puzzle, so wasting time trying to solve it did not make sense if you were going to eventually give up). We were now officially done with the race and no teams had arrived yet (but Marcy and John were on their way, as were the Friddles who we had not seen since the finals race started). We went on into camera check and all our clues were verified as good.

Here is a picture of the sliding block puzzle. You had to get the block marked with the X out of an exit slot.

Now it was a waiting game. Marcy and John had arrived and were busy working on the puzzle. I figured they would get it done pretty quickly. After about 5 minutes, the Friddles came in and started their puzzle. No other teams had arrived besides our 3 teams, so things were looking good. Both teams struggled with the puzzle and for Marcy and John, it would have saved them time also if they took the penalty, as they wound up working on it for over 15 minutes. Then just like that Marcy and John solved the puzzle and crossed the finish line. Less than 30 seconds later, the Friddles finished the puzzle and crossed the finish line as well. The great news was that all 3 of our teams had all the clues and pictures correct, so our mob swept the top three spots. A great testament to all our super clue solvers back home (some of these clues were hard to solve!).

Here are the timed results:

The first place team, Kip and Dave:

The second place team, John and Marcy:

The third place team, Pete and Phil:

Our "mob" of teams/crew: